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Macklemore – Ben Review

Even with generous and constant momentum behind him, Macklemore struggles with pacing. Depth too. Ben is a reminder of those issues. Despite his growing nature, the unruly mess he made back in 2016 is still in need of a clear-up. No bad days? All bad songs. Nearly an hour of soppy piano and embarrassing self-aggrandizations that boast of “talent” and “moment”. Macklemore does not possess the former, and the latter moment he sings of was over a decade ago. He has clung to fame like an ice climber with frostbitten hands and at this stage it needs to be asked whether Macklemore has any feeling left in those once-booming lyrics. Or his fingers. Chant and the music video that comes from it, the marionette Macklemore throwing himself around a river, boasting of his underdog perception, which exists only in the mind of Mackle, is one of many pungent choices made.

Feature-heavy album where Macklemore makes himself the king of the tracklist, Ben features Tones and I, Livingston and NLE Choppa to name a few. It should be no surprise Macklemore brushes shoulders with the formerly popular or yet-to-be flash-in-the-pan artists as he is one of them. No Bad Days highlights the lack of interest Macklemore has in his own lyrics. “Stay in your lane,” he cries. Yes, that would be the ideal scenario. But Macklemore veers through into the oncoming traffic of reality. Even beyond lyrical specifics, the emptiness in the instrumentals and the sickly, airheaded optimism of having nothing phase him for the negative is truly stunning. No bad days. Macklemore is beyond feeling. He moves in his own range and is disconnected from the foils of the real world. He has no bad days. 

But listeners are in for a bad day after listening to Ben. An American phenomenon that appeals to the common denomination, the people who are guided and gaslit by chart music positions. Into Macklemore’s world we go, and the gluttony, flash emptiness and bubbly optimism is a hard series of ventures to swallow. Genuine or not, his major trouble is the lack of sincerity. Corny, ham-fisted experiences that are without a doubt personal appear throughout. Does Macklemore know what “living like 1984” means? George Orwell made little mention of three ways and gangsters in his seminal work. Sickly upbeat qualities from the empty heart, using the likes of Windser and Nardwuar to big him up with brand loyalty and OutKast green colour-coding on Maniac. Day You Die does its best hip-hop impression, heavily reliant on DJ Premier.  

It is through collaboration that listeners find new artists. Through Macklemore, they find people to avoid or ignore. Grime is rather apt for Macklemore’s latest album. Ben is filth for the ears. Not through subject or topic but its vast emptiness. Whether I Need is a real desire for material wealth or a mockery of it is indiscernible. Macklemore has no sense of tone. “Fuck the lyrics,” Macklemore proclaims on Lost / Sun Comes Up, and he does just that. What follows is withering and complacent, flashbacks to times that mean much to Macklemore but fail to make a splash through poorly assessed lyrics and hollow instrumentals. Glide on through. It gets easier to listen to, or at least ignore the faults of Ben, when the initial shock value of such shoddy quality has worn off.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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